In 1905, The Field Museum was in dire need of a permanent home. Its original building, the Palace of Fine Arts from the World’s Columbian Exposition, was rapidly deteriorating. Contained within “The 1909 Burnham Plan for Chicago,” the plans for the new building were controversial both because of the proposed location and the style of the architecture. Burnham initially planned to place the museum on Congress Street in the center of Grant Park. Opposition arose to having any buildings in the park, and a legal battle that went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court moved the museum’s proposed location. They initially decided to rebuild the museum in Jackson Park, and the steel and marble were delivered to the site in anticipation of construction. The plan was changed again when the South Park Commission reacquired land just south of Grant Park, and the museum was ultimately built at its present location just south of Roosevelt Road. Construction on the new building began on July 26, 1915. In 1918, the plans for the Museum were altered to allow the Museum to act as a hospital during World War I. Though the Board of Trustees reluctantly gave in to the agreement, the government cancelled the contract before any recovering soldiers were ever seen at the Field. For more information on the Museum's brief relationship with the military, click here.
Workers moving several exhibits from the old Field Columbian Museum building to the present Field Museum location.
Construction took almost six years to complete and cost approximately $7,000,000. The foundation alone took one year, and extends down 95 feet in some places. When it was first constructed, the building was made of 350,000 cubic feet of white Georgia marble and covered 20 acres of floor space. On May 2, 1921, the Field Museum was reopened to the public. Since that time, many additions have been made to the Museum’s floor plan, most notably the 2005 construction of the Collection’s Resource Center which added 186,000 square feet on two under-ground levels. The Museum’s exhibition space occupies over 480,000 square feet on the Ground, Main and Upper levels. Stanley Field Hall itself accounts for a half an acre of floor space, with a length of 300 feet and a width of 70 feet. The Hall’s floor is comprised of 300 million year old fossilized limestone.
Field Museum construction site view of the south entrance with cranes lifting marble roofing tiles in place, dated 12 July 1918.
Neoclassical Inspiration: The Erechtheum and other Grecian and Roman Temples
See more images of the Grecian elements of the Field Museum's architecture here.
Looking at The Field Museum is almost as good as looking at some of the most famous temples in Greece and Rome. Based on the original Beaux Arts designs from the World Exposition by Charles B. Atwood, the architectural style is undeniably inspired by the Erechtheum at Athens, the Temple of Minerva Polias at Priene, the Pantheon at Rome and many other notable Grecian and Roman designs. The Erectheum, thought to be the main inspiration for the building, resulted in the caryatid porches and many of the details on the numerous Ionic columns throughout the museum. At a time when critics were praising the new, modern skyscrapers, architects such as Burnham and Anderson showed a deep appreciation for the Beaux Arts style that came across in the majority of their work. While the magnitude of the building is incredible, the fine details that decorate every arch, colonnade, wall and ceiling are just as impressive. For more information on the history, construction and architecture, click here.
The Real Man with the Plan: The common misconception about the actual architect of The Field Museum
Though the famous Daniel Burnham was responsible for the initial planning of The Field Museum and included it in his famous "Plan for Chicago," his associate William Peirce Anderson was the real architect who designed the neoclassical structure that is visited today by over 1.25 million people a year. An accomplished yet modest architect, Anderson was trained in architecture at Harvard and then at the L'ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before joining Burnham & Graham. Later, after Burnham left the company, Anderson became a named partner in Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, which became the largest architecture firm in the country and was responsible for the design of many of Chicago’s greatest landmarks. It is often overlooked that Anderson was responsible for designing The Field Museum, Union Station, Marshall Field & Co., the Continental and Commercial Bank, and the 1910 People’s Gas Light and Coke Company.
Henry Hering’s Lovely Ladies and Missing Maidens
In 1916, a year after construction had begun on the new building for the Field Museum, Henry Hering was commissioned to complete statues, low level relief panels, and other decorative features for the building, including the memorable lion medallions on the exterior and interior of the building. Hering, a native to New York and prolific sculptor who studied under the famous Augustus Saint-Gaudens, produced eight caryatids, four low level relief panels, and four muses representing the aims of The Field Museum. Upon inspecting Hering’s designs before confirming them fit for the museum, Anderson wrote to President Stanley Field: “It seems to me that these models are one [sic] of the finest pieces of decorative sculpture that have been produced in modern times.”
But not every design commissioned by the museum would become a reality. Though the reasons are still unclear, eight statues that were meant to depict the four cardinal directions as well as the four elements, were sculpted in clay but never realized in marble. These statues, meant to be placed above the north and south entrances to the building, are now known as the Missing Maidens. For more on Henry Hering and the story of the Maidens, click here.
Hering’s caryatids, sculpted female figures serving as pillars, can be seen on the exterior of the building on four separate porches. Some of their faces are slightly damaged by acid rain that began eroding parts of the museum in the early 1980’s.
Low Relief Panels
Above each caryatid porch resides a different low relief panel or frieze also designed and created by Hering. Each one depicts a different department of the museum: Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology.
Botany, Low Relief Panel by Henry Hering, Winged female figure holding plants, fruits and flowers.
Geology, Low Relief Panel by Henry Hering, Winged female figure holding a globe with North and South American continents and a torch representing fire.
Zoology, Low Relief Panel by Henry Hering, Winged female figure holding a horned animal skull.
Located at each corner of Stanley Field Hall, the four muses depict the purposes for which The Field Museum was founded.
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